I’ve been trying to digest my feelings about my Jerusalem trip ever since I returned last week. Being an ancient culture junkie and writer of occult paranormal fiction, I fully expected to come back full to the gills or maybe even drowning in inspiration.
Well, not so much. Or perhaps I should say not so much inspired in the ways I expected to be. To frame the context, the reason I went to Jerusalem in the first place is because my incredible wife Ariane Zurcher, who writes an incredible blog called Emma’s Hope Book about our incredible 10 year old autistic daughter, was invited to attend the iCare4Autism conference there. I occasionally write for the blog. Those interested can ferret out my contributions, but Ariane is the guiding light and it is her efforts that made the powers-that-be rightly determine that her involvement would be highly beneficial.
I basically helped with the bags.
I was, however, extremely excited about the trip for a number of reasons. When we were married 13 years ago we had planned on kicking off our honeymoon in Jerusalem. It was basically planned as an “Ancient Sites of the Fertile Crescent” tour, with planned (and booked!) excursions to Giza, a river trip up (down?) the Nile to Thebes, The Valley of The Kings and Abu Simbel, then over to Mt. Sinai and finally the wonders of Petra.
None of it happened. The intifada broke out. As a result, we took a not-so-fantastic tour of Mexico where we all got sick and I had a family of a million+ amoebas shacking up in my digestive tract for a year or so. No…shit. Anyway, I was really looking forward to seeing the Old City of Jerusalem. We also saw the ruins of Masada and floated in the Dead Sea, which, by the way, is as amusing as it is painful. There is so much salt in the Dead Sea that you are instructed to wade into waist depth, then gently ease backward. What happens? You don’t just float. You pop up like a piece of well-done toast. It is hysterically funny and almost worth the pain.
What pain? The pain from the salt on any exposed (as in not covered by skin) flesh. There are warning signs all along the shore. Under no circumstances should you submerge your head underwater, splash etc. What they didn’t mention was that you should also have no exposed cuts. Within 30 seconds Ariane was almost screaming in pain from the severe abrasions she had on her knuckles. My own experience may have been even more painful. I’m not sure how it happened, but some of the salt water invaded my urethra and I practically clawed my way out of the sea. My dick, you see, was…how should I put? Hmm. I guess perhaps an equivalent sensation would be if one of the pilgrims to the holy sites in Jerusalem took one of the long, thin votive candles they use and…
Well, you get the picture. Moving right along…another reason for my excitement about Jerusalem was that Drs. Henry and Kamila Markram would be speaking and I would get to tag along with Araine when she interviewed them. The Markrams created the Intense World Theory of Autism, the first theory that has ever made sense to us. Henry Markram is also the head of The Blue Brain project, which is attempting to create a computer simulation of the brain, neuron by neuron. His TED talk is a mind blower and I highly recommend it. Our conversation after their lecture was utterly fascinating. They are wonderful people, as brilliant as they are compassionate.
Which all brings me back in my typical roundabout fashion to my experience of the ancient wonders of Jerusalem. We went nearly everywhere in the Old City, plus the surrounding areas like the Mount of Olives and The City of David. I touched the alleged rock of Golgotha, where Christ was said to be crucified, the tomb where Jesus was supposedly interred, prior to his big wake-up call, the tomb of Mary and about five various “authentic” or conjectured tombs of King David.
It was the multiple King David tombs that pushed me over the edge from wonder to annoyance. Yes, there are a lot of really old things in the Old City. Yes, there are a lot of things that come close to being historic facts. The Dome on the Rock was actually built on top of a rock. That much is certain. But the rock itself — variously claimed to be the site where Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac and Mohammed ascended into heaven – that rock remains essentially a rock. Perhaps a mysterious rock, but a rock nonetheless. The Western Wall? More rocks. The tombs, real or imagined? Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Occasionally they are nicely hewed rocks. Often, they look no different than the rocks you might sit on to wipe the desert sweat from your brow. The sacred sweat.
The more I looked at all the pilgrims – Christian, Muslim, Jewish – venerating the rocks, literally — kissing the rocks, touching the rocks, stuffing wish list notes into the rocks – the more disturbed I became. Anyone who’s read twenty pages of The Book of Paul knows that I write dark. Funny, sometimes. Creepy, often. But the general tone ranges from dark to black. Yet my most horrible imaginings of Paul and his world pale in comparison to the horror of religious wars that have carved the bloody history of Jerusalem into all those worn, kissable rocks. The Children’s Crusade leaps to mind as a prime example.
All that would not weigh so heavily on me if the Old City of Jerusalem were regarded as a large, open-air museum. It sure is beautiful and there sure are plenty of amazing sights to see. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people visiting and living within those ancient stone walls actually believe all this stuff. Still. Today. Over 2,000 years after Christ was crucified. Over fifteen centuries after Mohammed might have last felt his feet on the rock under the dome. Over all the years when the first temple was built.
Practically everybody there still believes all those old legends and kiss and stroke the rocks and then are entirely willing to kill, torture and perhaps wipe out the entire human population if necessary to ensure that every living being believes the same stories as fervently as they do, and kiss the same rocks for the same reasons.
So instead of being inspired by my love of ancient cultures and the treasures of the past, I left Jerusalem grieving for all the deaths, all the pain, all the torture and cruelty that had occurred there – and all the death, pain, torture and cruelty that will surely follow in the years to come if the zealots of the world have their way.
Rocks. Rock upon rock upon rock.
Give me science. Paul’s great secret at the end of The Book is to whisper to William, “Science is Magic.” It’s not a spoiler to tell you, because hardly anyone knows what Paul is talking about. Science reveals the true wonder of our existence to anyone willing to dig in, hold on and enjoy the ride. At least half of the most important theorists actually admit their work is theoretical (heretical to the zealots). I hope Henry Markram is successful in simulating the human brain. Then maybe the great Blue Brain can answer the most glaring and sadly unexplained question of human existence:
Why are we still so fucking stupid?